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Farmers' Organizations Not Yet Unified in Nigeria

There are a great many farmers’ organizations in Nigeria,
but can we speak of a Nigerian “farmers’ movement” ? Between
the large umbrella organizations that are sometimes
manipulated by the government authorities, and a multitude
of local initiatives, Nigerian farmers are now beginning to look
for a path to unity.

Even if farmers’ organizations (FOs) in Nigeria
are not yet well structured, several broad
categories can be distinguished : FOs with a
general scope and focus on advocacy ; FOs set up as
cooperatives specialising in one or more agricultural
products ; FOs that operate locally ; and FOs made up
of only women.
Thee number and composition of FOs in Nigeria are
hard to ascertain. Locally there are many small FOs,
often organised by age group or sex (elders, youths,
women, etc.). On the national scale, the large federations
that are meant to take charge of advocacy and
address politicians have been created only recently,
or are very close to the federal government. It is still
too early to speak of a genuine “farmers’ movement”
in Nigeria, but some dynamic currents are becoming

CFN and FADU : Economic Organizations Structured
at the National Level
. There are an estimated
2,000 cooperatives in Nigeria that are grouped in local
and/or regional unions. They are specific to a product
(mainly groundnuts, cassava, oilseed plants, cotton,
maize, wheat and rice) or to a territory. The Cooperative
Federation of Nigeria (CFN) was founded in
1945, and numbers thirty-five cooperative federations
from around the country, covering roughly 50,000
grassroots cooperatives. In addition to representing
its members at the national level, the CFN offers various
services : training and capacity building, access
to credit. It also plays a role in mediation and coordination
between the member cooperatives.
The Farmers’ Development Union (FADU) has at
least 5000,000 members, 65% of whom are women. The
federation is active in twenty-nine states in Nigeria. Its
activities aim primarily to provide economic services
to farmers—management advice, technical training,
access to credit, etc.—and defend their interests.

Women’s Cooperatives United under COWAN. The
Country Women’s Association of Nigeria (COWAN)
was created in 1982 by Mrs. Bisi Ogunleye, who still
presides the federation today. It operates in twentyeight
of the thirty-six states in Nigeria. Its members
are exclusively women, rural or urban, who are organised
in local groups (cooperatives) of ten to fifteen
members. COWAN’s activities follow the needs of
its members : the federation offers microcredit and
training in ways to save money, as well as support for
small businesses and agricultural activities.

Organizations with a Trade Union Focus : AFAN,

AFAN, a special partner of the government. The Apex
Farmers’ Association of Nigeria (AFAN) was born
of the merger of two umbrella organizations, the
All-Farmers Association of Nigeria (ALFA) and the
National Farmers’ Association of Nigeria (NAFAN).
This merger was purportedly recommended by the
Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo, who wanted
to see all Nigerian producers assembled in one organization,
so that the government would have a single
clearly identified interlocutor for addressing agricultural
issues with the farming community. AFAN is
considered to be very close to the government and
its independence has been questioned. The makeup
of its leadership has very often been affected by
changes in the government.
AFAN’s activity is essentially that of an advocacy
group at the federal government level. AFAN seems
to play an important role in Nigerian agriculture,
and draws its legitimacy from its membership inherited
from ALFA and NAFAN. It has often been
reproached for not representing small farmers in Nigeria,
however. Amina Djibrin, president of ASAPIN,
denounces “an agribusiness type of producers’ apex
organization that does not defend the interests of
small farmers.” Likewise, Dr. Olaseinde Arigbede,
president of USMEFAN, declares that AFAN “is a
political instrument in the hands of the government,
and has never truly defended the interests of small

USMEFAN, an organization that affirms its independence.
Contrary to AFAN, the Union of Small and
Medium-Scale Farmers of Nigeria (USMEFAN) is
a broad umbrella organization that is highly critical
of the federal government. Its leader, Dr. Olaseinde
Arigbede, describes the difficulties that USMEFAN
founders encountered at the inception of the organization :
“the existing apex organization, AFAN, did
not want its members to have the option of going
over to another organization. When we finally managed
to build a coalition of producers and launch
USMEFAN in 2004, it didn’t please the government,
and we had to fight until 2007 to obtain legal recognition
and status.”
Today, USMEFAN is a national network of producers
in twenty-two states across the country. Based in
Ibadan, USMEFAN operates with very little outside
funding and few employees. As its leader explains :
“We cannot depend on funding bodies for our development ; I believe that NGOs and international
aid have corrupted our people. I recognise that we
need partners to help us start up certain activities,
but later on the organization must be capable of generating
income by itself through its activities, and
not always wait for outside help.” Dr. Arigbede’s
strong personality, which has given the organization
its impetus since the beginning, makes some
observers sceptical concerning USMEFAN’s social
base and its viability.
USMEFAN focuses on food sovereignty and the
defence of family farms and smallholder agriculture :
“We are convinced that family farms are the
best prospect for the future, they are the hope of
Africa.” (Dr. Olaseinde Arigbede) The group opposes
globalisation and market liberalisation, fighting
for greater justice, equity among peoples and
gender equality. Its grassroots action addresses the
day-to-day problems of small farmers. One of its
major current themes is land grabbing. To combat
this phenomenon, USMEFAN has waged a broad
awareness-raising campaign notably via the media,
targeting farmers and also traditional chiefs.
USMEFAN is also mobilised against the introduction
of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in
Nigeria, working to inform the young generation
and raise their awareness.

“Voices for Food Security” and the birth of a new organization,
. The Voices for Food Security
(VFS) campaign was launched in July 2009 by Nigerian
organizations working with NGOs from the
North, most notably Oxfam. These include Nigerian
smallholders, civil society organizations and various
Nigerian networks. The main objective is to mobilise
actors and support their efforts to work together on food security issues in Nigeria.
The VFS campaign is addressed to the federal government,
and to international funding bodies. One
of its first acts was to ask the government to split the
Ministry of Agriculture and Water Resources into two
separate ministries, a plea that was fruitful, as these
two ministries now exist. The second issue raised by
VFS was the percentage of the national budget devoted
to agriculture (see the Maputo commitments),
when it was observed that this proportion had fallen
between 2009 and 2010.
The presence of a great many organizations representing
Nigerian smallholders in this campaign
led to the creation of the Association of Small Agro-
Producers (ASAPIN) in Nigeria with the mission of
representing small producers at the national level.
ASAPIN obtained official recognition in March
2010. This organization represents local FOs that
are themselves present in all thirty-six states. USMEFAN
is a member of ASAPIN. ASAPIN aims to
affiliate 100,000 members, and has taken on the mission
of defending food sovereignty and smallholder
agriculture in Nigeria.
While ASAPIN’s work is still closely tied to the
VFS campaign and advocacy, it also pursues action
to support farm production, via projects to
give farmers access to inputs. The association also
supports agricultural trade by helping farmers gain
access to markets and developing their negotiating

Nigerian Organizations in the Sub-Regional Structuring
Farmers are organised in a number
of different ways at the federal level in Nigeria. They
may focus on economic activities or advocacy ; some
have ties to the government, others are independent.
These farmers’ organizations are recent and fragile.
As of this writing, none had joined the Réseau des
Organisations Paysannes et de Producteurs d’Afrique
de l’Ouest (ROPPA, the network of farmers’ and agricultural
producers’ organizations of West Africa).
USMEFAN and ASAPIN, by their vision and their
mission to defend family farms and food sovereignty,
would seem to be quite close to ROPPA’s positions. Dr.
Olaseinde Arigbede, leader of USMEFAN, offers an
explanation. “We have been in contact with ROPPA
for a long time and we have already collaborated at
several levels. But it I think it is not yet time for us
to join a sub-regional network because, when one is
part of a network, one’s partners and those who work
with the network tend to want to put everybody in
the same basket. The risk is that if the basket falls, all
the eggs are broken at the same time.This seem to me
to be risky for us, for the time being. Furthermore
we don’t want to dilute ourselves in a sub-regional
body. Nigeria is big, we represent over half of West
Africa, and therefore if we want to set up a network
to be stronger, we should start with our own country !”

This article by the Grain
de sel editorial staff draws
upon a study carried out by
Agricord, an article in
Défis Sud (issue No. 95,
pp. 20-21), and interviews
with Amina Jibrin and
Alaseinde Arigbede,
leaders in Nigerian

Amina Jibrin
([email protected]) has
been president of the
Association of Small
Agroproducers in Nigeria
(ASAPIN) since 2010. She
has been a farmer for
fifteen years, growing
maize, soy beans and
cowpea (niebe) on the
roughly two hectares she
owns in a village in Bauchi

Olaseinde Arigbede
) chairs the
Union of Small and
Medium-Scale Farmers of
Nigeria (USMEFAN).
Trained as a medical
doctor, for twenty-three
years he has pursued his
choice of working to
support smallholders in
his country.

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